Should It Stay or Should It Go?

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Social Networking

Artists: Brokeback; Chicago Underground Duo; Eleventh Dream Day; Isotope 217; Tortoise
Albums: Field Recordings from the Cook County Water Table (BB); Synesthesia, Axis and Alignment (CU2); Prairie School Freakout/Wayne, Lived to Tell, Eighth (EDD); Utonian Automatic, Who Stole the I-Walkman? (I217); Millions Now Living Will Never Die, Standards, A Lazarus Taxon (Tortoise)
Source: Bought new (Millions, Standards, Lazarus); Bought used (Field Recordings, Prairie, Eighth); Promos (CU2, Isotope, Lived to Tell)

It sounds thoroughly unbelievable, but I totally swear that I only tried out online social networking because I had to. For work. My job at a college involves getting info in front of students, and my boss wanted to know more about this MySpace thing all the kids are always on about. So I signed up for MySpace and Facebook (while getting paid!) and gave them a whirl.

To be honest, I was thoroughly unimpressed. It seemed like elaborate online foreplay, with no actual (ahem) social penetration. I let my pages lie fallow and went back about my business. But the hype about the youths and their networking sites kept punching through the media filter, so I decided to examine them more thoroughly.

I came to two conclusions: 1) This was a serious waste of time; 2) This was fun!

In addition to linking up with current colleagues and buddies, I soon found myself connecting with people I hadn't talked to in years, decades. People from high school, summer camp, college, dot.com gigs...so many were out there, and I now had a convenient way to interface and catch up. It also made it easier to at least periodically touch base with NYC people, now that going out in the city had become more difficult. Facebook gets a rap for being a substitute for real interaction...but if there are people with whom you can't really have actual interaction, I'd say it's a step or two above letting them drift away completely.

What does all this have to do with the big ol' list of records at the top of the page? One of the cool things about the social networking sites is seeing how the people you know overlap, the cross-currents of experience, interests, geography, etc. Someone from camp went to college with someone I know from my improv theater; someone I went to college with is friends with a member of a band I like; someone from high school works a gig not too dissimilar from mine.

That sort of interconnectedness weaves and loops through all of these Chicago-based bands. Lots of cities have musically incestuous scenes, but the Windy City seems to have an exceptional level of cross-pollination. Brokeback is a solo project of Doug McCombs, who plays in Eleventh Dream Day and Tortoise; the Chicago Underground Duo records with Tortoise's John McEntire at Tortoise's studio, and half of the CU2 is on the Isotope records, along with a couple of Tortoise people; and so on. To be honest, I could have made this pile much, much larger if I'd pulled all of the discs that feature overlapping Chicago folk.

But it's not just a coincidence of geography or personnel that makes these connections notable. It's the way, like in a list of MySpace friends, that the networks overlap and the ways those overlapping networks affect the sounds. EDD loosened up and explored further out as McCombs brought his Tortoise chops back to the band. Tortoise worked with cut-and-paste production methods, a style that is the foundation of the CU2 discs. The moonlighters in Isotope brought guitarist Jeff Parker back with them to their more primary projects, and his sound and style profoundly changed those bands. Is the harsher guitar of Standards drawn from EDD? Maybe. Or perhaps it's another strand of the network making its presence felt/heard. Given the Facebook-like way that Chicago's musicians share ideas, spaces, personnel and sounds, it's less like a conscious effort to import/export these factors and more like a single social-musical web that continues to weave itself around and through the city's scene.

SISOSIG? Given the overlapping nature of the bands represented here, it's kind of hard to dig one and want to get rid of another. That said, the electro-jazz collages of the two CU2 discs don't always hit my ear just right...but I feel the need to be patient with them. Standards excited me right off the bat as noise-rock, then quickly grew stale, only to reappear to my ears as an entirely different (and more enjoyable) album of guitar-centered instrumentals; I'm currently going through the same process with the weightier Lazarus Taxon box. Same goes for the Isotope discs, which keep morphing with the shifting ways I'm able to hear them. With EDD and Tortoise sitting at the center of these ever-expanding networks, I think all of these records are ones that I want to keep connected to over time.

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